August Moon Festival, China Inc – Taj Santacruz Mumbai

 

Having celebrated Joash’s birthday a week ago, dining at China Inc at Taj Santacruz was a perfect way to end what was already an awesome week. We were so happy to be back, this time, to kickstart the mid-autumn festivities. Interestingly, the August Moon Festival is the second most celebrated festival in China after the Chinese New Year. Taj Santacruz Mumbai have once again come up with a promotion that celebrates just that.

The menu for this festival is specially designed to showcase the seasonal ingredients with a few favourites that everyone absolutely loves at China Inc.

We started off with an amuse bouche, which gave us a preview of how the rest of our meal was going to pan out. Here’s what we had and we highly recommend you to try these too.

Vegetable and Cheese Dumpling

Spinach and Crab Crystal Dumpling

Crispy Pumpkin Roll

Who doesn’t love a box of steaming hot dimsum? This menu has a clever mix of dim sum, with steamed dumplings, deep fried rolls and pan fried options. It would be difficult to pick out a favourite as they were all equally outstanding. At China Inc, we definitely saw more refinement in the way dumplings were made than before and boy they were sumptuous! The Crispy Pumpkin Roll and the Spinach and Crab Crystal dumplings are an absolute must have!

Crispy Supreme with Lemon Sauce

Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice

Silken Tofu with Tangy Peanut Sesame Dressing

Mountain Chilli Chicken

Mushroom in Black Pepper Sauce

Turnip Cakes

Winter Melon and Morel Broth

Peking Chicken Soup

Crispy Prawns with Oats and Curry Leaves

For appetizers, the Crispy Crumb Supreme served with Lemon Sauce had us weak at the knees; and the Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice left us wanting more. Both these dishes definitely stood out from all of the appetizers we tried. If you fancy soups, the light Winter Melon and Morel Broth is a clear winner. We just couldn’t stop ourselves from smiling when our favourite Prawns with Oats and Curry Leaves was served, some temptations are just hard to resist! If you haven’t tried this dish at China Inc, then we just gave you another reason to visit this beautiful restaurant.

Sautéed Crab with Snow White Bean Threads

Stir Fried Udon Noodles in Burnt Chilli, Black Bean and Vegetables

Wok Tossed Sticky Rice, Marbled Egg served in Lotus Leaf

Seasonal Vegetables in Lemon Chilli Sauce

The mains were simple yet so brilliantly put together. What we love about China Inc is how they treat each ingredient and showcase it’s honest flavours without being heavy on spices or sauces. The Wok-tossed Sticky Rice with marbled Eggs served in Lotus leaf is perfumed with a hint of truffle and simply elevates eating each spoonful a pure delight. The Sticky Rice went really well with the Chilli Hoisin Chicken and the seasonal vegetables in Lemon Chilli Sauce. Another favourite of ours for the evening was the Sautéed Crab Meat with Snow White Mung Bean Threads. Sublime!

We paired our meal with a bottle of ‘Nik Weis St Urbana-Hof’ Riesling.

King Longans

Mooncake

Sago Pudding

What’s an August Moon Festival without Mooncakes?! We enjoyed Moon Cake, which was a part of the dessert trio. It was simply scrumptious; crumbly on the outside, and dense with red bean goodness on the inside. (We’ve got a soft spot for moon cakes 😀 ) The red bean filling makes it perfect for those who enjoy their dessert with just a hint of sweetness. The King Longans were nice and the delicate flavours of the Coconut Sago Pudding was just the perfect way to end our meal.

This special menu is a perfect blend of the flavours of authentic Chinese cuisine during the harvest season. Chef Vikram Milhoutra’s team have yet again done an amazing job in executing these dishes. Every dish not only looked picture perfect but tasted absolutely delicious; Rarely do we have a meal where we’ve been impressed with every single dish that we’ve eaten. QWe highly recommend you to try the August Moon Festival at China Inc, Taj Santacruz. It lasts till the 9th of October, 2017.

Golden Dragon, Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai and Ming Yang, Taj Lands End Mumbai are also celebrating this festival with a special menu.

Yuuka, The St Regis Mumbai

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Dining at Yuuka with a meal prepared by none other than Chef Ting Yen was a dream come true. We had heard so about him and his son Kevin’s feat at St. Regis Mumbai’s Japanese restaurant and were delighted to be invited to review their new menu.

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We started our meal with one of Yuuka’s signature dishes – Salmon on Fire! Strips of raw salmon are placed on a lemongrass stalk that is suspended on a bed of coffee beans. The salmon is encrusted with bits of deep fried onion pieces and petals of edible flowers. Once brought to the table, the server sets fire to the coffee beans, lightly scorching the meat rendering a smoky char that adds immense flavour. It was served with a dipping sauce, but the salmon itself was so delicious; you don’t really need the sauce to enjoy the dish. Our meal was off to a great start.

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For drinks we had the Yuuka’s signature cocktails – Ginger Manhattan (Jim Beam, Martini Rosso, Ginger Falemum and Sour Mix) which was a very asian version of the classic cocktail and Ting’s Sushi Companion (Cucumber infused Sake, Mint, Cucumber Lime), a refreshing cocktail that really added to the dining experience. Later we also tried the Samurai – Yamazaki (12YO) Whisky Orange Juice and Togarashi powder. The whisky is Suntory’s (Japan’s first commercial distillery) flagship single malt whisky, multi-layered with fruit and Mizunara aromas, combined with Orange and Togarashi it gave a lovely fruity punch with some heat. All three are a must try!

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The next appetizer was the Avocado Tartare; a dish with a million textures (or at least that’s what it felt like). It is served cold in a frozen martini glass. The avocado tartare is placed on Perilla leaves or Shiso and served on ice. A layer of ice separates that from the Corn Dashi. The server breaks the ice to mix both leaving us with a chilled glass of creamy deliciousness. We loved the way the dish looked and the having it cold made it really enjoyable.

Chef Ting Yen is known for his restaurant Oishii in Boston. Being born in Japan, and raised in Korea and Taiwan, Chef Yen uses the experience and passion he has for Japanese food to craft a truly impressive menu at Yuuka. Using influences from his childhood and elements from family recipes, he carefully crafts each dish with refinement and a myriad of flavours and presents it in a modern way. His son Kevin who is equally passionate, adds to the symphony.

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The next dish was presented to us by the duo. Chef Yen brought to our table a hot infusion siphon. The first time we’d seen one brought out onto a restaurant floor. It’s an amazing tool to make hot broths or cocktails, even tea and coffee at the table. Chef Yen called it the ‘5 min Mushroom Dashi’. Made with Kombu, dried Bonito flakes and a variety of mushrooms, the dashi is most certainly a flavour bomb of umami. We were served chunks of prawns, oyster and shiitake mushroom with scallions, and medallions of semolina cakes that were seared for a light caramelized exterior. The semolina cakes were sweet and give a contrast to the rich umami flavour in the dish. Elegant and delicious.

We also tried the Chilean Sea Bass that was packed with deep soy flavour which was followed by a train of Maki Rolls.

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Our favourites of the evening, The Truffle Maki and the Lamb Over Fire Maki. It’s hard to resist truffles when paired with creamy avocado, cucumber and a generous shaving of black truffle; each morsel becomes a moment to cherish. If you love the truffles, this maki roll is a dish you can’t afford to miss.

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The Lamb Maki Over Fire. Each bite is nothing short of a mouthwatering amalgamation of flavours. The flames from the coffee beans and lemongrass lightly scorch the edges of the roll, rendering it smoky, with hints of the fragrant burnt lemongrass and coffee. A Ponzu reduction is drizzled over it while it’s still roasting, to add in a new dimension of flavour. Each roll is topped with a tiny slice of chilli and finely sliced scallions. The thinly sliced lamb that wraps around the Maki just seems to melt away as soon as it’s in your mouth. Stuffed with lamb and soy, this roll is a definite must-try from the list of dishes that have been added to the menu at Yuuka.

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We also tried a few of Chef’s specials like the Chef Ting’s Fried Rice and Stir Fried Udon Noodles with Dutch Porkbelly with Red Miso. We really enjoyed the fried rice as it had a spicy kick to it. Chef informed us that the noodles were not on the menu and were from the hidden menu at Oishii. Only a few patrons at Oishii knew it exists, as he doesn’t like to make it for everyone. It’s made just like how his father used to make it and the Chef took immense pride in sharing the special memory with us. You could tell that the noodles were handmade. They had a really chewy texture to them, I loved the light sauce and vegetables that it was tossed in. The pork belly was tender and was cooked to perfection.

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For dessert we had the Wine Poached Pear with Berries. It turned out to be a perfect way to end our meal. Sublime, not-too-sweet and quite literally a nice ‘fade to black’ as far as our evening went.

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Yuuka as a restaurant that celebrates modern Japanese food and Chef Ting Yen combines it with Nikkei cuisine with a few Peruvian ingredients. Chef Ting and his son, Kevin, only visit the restaurant at St. Regis, Mumbai twice a year. Kudos to the team of chefs trained by Chef Ting, who keep the torch burning strong and fierce when he is not around. We had the opportunity to meet the father-son duo in November and we had an amazing time dining there.

Luna Gusta, The St. Regis Mumbai

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We were invited to have dinner at the newly launched Luna Nudo Gusta, The St Regis Mumbai’s modern European restaurant and bar. Luna means the moon in Italian and Spanish; we were informed that the name reflected the charismatic energy of the moon and how it influenced the tides. Romantic as it may seem, it was apparent how well Luna Gusto – the restaurant and Luna Nudo – the bar got their guests captivated with great music, amazing food and enticing cocktails.

We were already in awe of The St Regis as a hotel. Mumbai’s quintessential sanctum of luxury, it’s bespoke services and rituals would make anyone feel like royalty. Their Butler service being the first in the country, and with award winning restaurants and bars; we knew we were in for a great time.

Located on the 37th floor of the St. Regus hotel, Luna Nudo Gusta has two levels. Luna Nudo – the bar, is on the lower level with a stairway that leads up to Luna Gusta – the restaurant.

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Luna Nudo looks really chic with vertical neon tube lights that give everything in the room a blue and pink hue. The place was bustling with people while the band that played some really good live music.

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On the other hand the décor at Luna Gusta is luxurious and glamorous, while the lighting sets a very intimate tone. Wooden frames suspended from the ceiling create an optical illusion as if they are floating, and among them are golden shade chandeliers add a very opulent feel to the overall ambience to the restaurant. With a mosaic-tiled wall, marble tabletops and gold-blue-green plush upholstery, the décor was absolutely stunning. One couldn’t miss the Moet & Chandon champagne rack that had the classic and the pretty white Ice Imperial series of our favorite bubbly. Sticking to the moon theme, the charger plates were black and were teamed with black serviette and matte black cutlery. We couldn’t wait for our meal to begin.

The menu starts off with a “Graze & Share” section comprising of salads and appetizers, followed by soups, then mains and sides. Don’t be confused if you don’t find the dessert section on the menu. Your server will promptly hand you the dessert menu after you’re done with your meal.

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We started off with a red wine sangria and the amuse bouche of the day. We were served a tray of freshly baked in house bread with herbed and black garlic butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We also ordered the “Unusual Classics”, Crescent Fashioned and Luna Mary. The Crescent Fashioned came with a lot of theatre. It was Luna’s take on the classic Old Fashioned and their twist was to use an in-house infusion; Bourbon infused with Kashmiri Kahwa with bitters and orange marmalade. The drink was brought to our table in a smoked glass cloche. Thanks to Ferran Adria who started the trend of adding smoke to food, it just took the drink to a whole new level. It was delicious.

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We really liked how the drink was presented, but what the bartender did with the next drink was pure genius. The Luna Mary was made with Bacon infused vodka and had in-house chili bitters. With a strip of smoked bacon and olives on a stick, this drink just made my day. It was spicy and was flavoured with smokey bacon.

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Our first dish at Luna Gusta was the Artisanal Burrata & Florentine Fennel. Served on a bed of shaved fennel with orange and grapefruit wedges, basil, romaine hearts; it was drizzled with pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with volcanic black salt. It was refreshing and well balanced. The burrata was fresh and creamy and who doesn’t love citrus in their salad. We were off to a good start.

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Then came the crowning glory of the menu, one of Luna Gusta’s signature dishes – Highland Venison Carpaccio! I’ve had Beef Carpaccio but this was at a whole other level. I love the process of how beautifully the thinly slices of meat are arranged. The meat is lightly seared to seal in the juices and then frozen so that it can be cut thinly; once it’s arranged on the plate it is allowed to defrost and is then served. It’s a cold dish, but the contrast of flavours and textures is what makes this dish an epicurean’s delight. The meat was lean and was served with shaved Pecorino cheese, baby greens and extra virgin olive oil. It disintegrated as soon as it hit my palate. A definite must-try.

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Next we had the Crumbed Diver Scallops, another house favourite and highly recommended dish. This dish looked really pretty as it was served in scallop shells with corn puree and apple. That Scallops and apples are a match made in heaven is a known fact, and these were perfectly crumb fried and the julienned apples added just the right amount of crunch and freshness to this dish. The creamy corn puree brought the whole dish together. We absolutely loved it. The Gremolata Jumbo Tiger Prawns with Chili Aioli that we tried was good too; but the Scallops stole the show. 🙂

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Our next drinks were not from the “Unusual Classics”. Joel, the bartender wanted us to try something that he had been working on with his in-house infusions. We had the “Harvest of the Moon” – Bourbon infused with honey and cinnamon, and smoked with Apple wood. It came in a pretty wooden box. We also tried a Gin cocktail that was infused with rosemary and lemon. Superb stuff.

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Moving on to the next dish, Bouillabaisse. I remember watching Masterchef Australia: Season 2 Episode 28, where contestants had a taste test to identify all the 23 ingredients of a Bouillabaisse. But this was Luna’s version of the Provençal dish. It had shrimp, red snapper and squid. The tomato broth was full of seafood flavour and richness of saffron. The toasted Focaccia that was mentioned in the description was missing but we enjoyed every bit of the hearty soup.

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For mains we had Spiny Lobster Risotto and Peppered Lamb Rack. The risotto was perfectly made with chunks of lobster and baby spinach leaves. The flavour of the lobster with Parmesan cheese complemented each other. It was delicious. The plump rack of lamb from New Zealand was perfectly seared and cut in perfect cutlets; served with roasted veggies and green peppercorn jus. It was a classic dish and I wouldn’t want to change anything about it. It was really good and is most certainly fit to be listed among Luna Gusta’s best dishes.

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Dessert time. Our server got us the dessert menu and as always we ordered two from the menu. The White Chocolate Parfait and Gusta’s Cake for Two. Little did we know that we had bitten off more than we could chew, but it was all worth it. The White Chocolate Parfait was served with Beetroot sponge, Beetroot Coulis, Beetroot that was brunoised, and was topped with Goat’s Cheese Ice-cream that completely blew our mind. This dessert wasn’t overtly sweet and we loved how it balanced the flavours of each component. The parfait was light, and the three textures of beetroot added a subtle earthiness. We were happy with the dessert and were waiting for the second one. We had no clue what was in store for us. 😀

We then see two chefs walking towards us, and two servers walking with them, with a table and a bunch of ingredients. Lo and behold! The orchestrated concept that was birthed by Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame was about to unfold before our eyes. The Gusta’s Cake for Two was Luna’s way of creating a theatrical experience that would leave one wide eyed and smiling ear to ear. Chef Garima spread out a sheet of paper that had the logo of Luna Gusta over the table. She placed a 7-layer cake that was finished with a rich Chocolate Ganache and topped with gold leaf. She then began swirling around chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis, crushing meringue kisses, and dropping mango puree. She also added some chocolate chips, blueberries and red currants. The chef assisting her then piped in some chocolate mousse, which she froze with a canister of liquid nitrogen! Finally she cut the cake into four quarters revealing the layers of the perfectly made cake. What a grand finale! It’s an experience that we recommend to everyone who visits Luna Gusta.

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The Bittersweet Chocolate Cake was rich with complex textures and the raspberry jelly in the cake added a bit of sourness to offset the overall bittersweet taste of the cake. We could scoop up just the right amount of chocolate sauce or mango puree depending on our individual preference. The crunchy bits of meringue and chocolate chip added even more texture, and so did the berries that were scattered randomly around the cake. It was sinfully indulgent. 🙂

What we love about Luna Gusta is apart from the amazing food, the vibe and the eagerness of the staff to ensure that each guest has a good time. Kudos to service team, they were very attentive and the service was par excellence. The food is fabulous and drinks are unique. Their in-house infusions and concoctions are highly recommended. We had an amazing time and we can’t wait to be back for more, even if it’s just for Gusta’s Cake for Two! 🙂

Lima, BKC

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Lima is Michelin Star Chef Atul Kochhar’s take on South American cuisine. Located right next to NRI, at Bandra Kurla Complex, the restaurant offers modern style South American food while keeping true to traditional flavours. The décor is simple yet chic, and looks very inspired by the interiors of a colonial Peruvian villa. The place would look amazing during the day. The amount of natural light that this lounge gets with it’s long windows would just make every plate of food pop with colour. We got to Lima at around 7:30pm though. The place was dimly lit and low light levels set a nice tone for our dinner.

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The first dish that was served to us was Ceviche Classico. Seabass, Sweet-Potato Confit and Leche de Tigre. Classic as it gets, this ceviche was a bowlful of varied tastes and textures that resulted in a stunning dish. The combination of buttery confit sweet potatoes, with chunks of fish cured in a citrus-based marinade, and the crunch of toasted chulpe corn topped with red onion slices, was a treat to our senses. Every bite transported us to Cevicheria and we found ourselves swaying to the music that was played in the background. Ceviche is to Peruvians, what pasta is to Italians; and this dish started off the evening with a bang.

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For drinks, we ordered Pisco Sour and Rosemary Passion Chili. Both these cocktails had Pisco, the Peruvian grape-based white spirit. It was a refreshing twist to the classic whiskey sour that had egg white, lime and sugar. The Rosemary Passion Chili was delicious, with the prominent flavour of Passion Fruit and a just a hint of spice with the chili. It went really well with our meal.

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We then had the Tuna Tiradito. A dish that had raw Tuna cut like Sashimi, which demonstrates the influence of Japanese immigrants in Peruvian cooking. Though Ceviche also has raw fish, the factors that differentiate a Tiradito and Ceviche are the style in which the fish is cut and also how it is prepared to serve. Ceviche is cured fish whereas in Tiradito, the sauce is poured over the fish just before it’s served. Here we had thinly sliced Tuna topped with bright Aji chili paste, Chia seeds, sliced red onions and toasted quinoa. The Aji chili paste is made out of yellow Aji chili or Aji escabeche. It is mild and the paste almost tastes like an aioli. The mature pods of the chili though are bright orange in color and ranges from 40,000-50,000 units on the Scoville scale, which is pretty hot! This dish however was really mild and delicious with crunch of the onion slices, the gelatinous texture of the soaked chia seed added another texture dimension to the dish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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You won’t usually find us excited when it comes to salad. We weren’t expecting much of the next dish, which was a simple Quinoa salad. Well, actually, it was a multicolored Quinoa salad, with red, black and white quinoa, and Passion Fruit Leche. We were terribly wrong in underestimating Chef Jerry’s skills in bringing this salad to life. The salad was simple, but how Chef Jerry played with textures in the dish won our hearts. The crunch of the toasted quinoa was well camouflaged with the different colors of the seed, and that just lifted the dish and made the experience of eating such a simple salad truly enjoyable. Passion Fruit, as a fruit is so versatile, it can usually be used in a savoury dish or dessert and we really loved it in the Pisco cocktail too. It’s acidity and sweetness was brilliantly used in the dressing of this dish.

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Another salad that impressed was the Chicken Causa. Causa as a cold-layered salad/starter has a very deep history of how it came to being and there are various versions of it. Though it has evolved with time, the components of the dish have more or less remain the same. It has potato topped with fish (usually canned), egg with olives or avocado. We loved Lima’s version of this dish. Chicken Causa with Huancaina (wan-ka-eena) sauce. It had mini purple potato patties laced with the Huancaina sauce, topped with a quenelle of chicken salad, egg shavings and chives. Traditionally, Huancaina sauce is made of Queso Fresco, oil, Aji chili, evaporated milk and salt. It had a very creamy and rich consistency and it really brought the dish together.

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The next dish was Mushroom Ceviche. A mix of Enoki, Trumpet, Shimeji, Shitake and Button mushrooms served in a Ponzu reduction. A dish that celebrates Japanese influence in Peruvian cuisine. With Nikkei cuisine (fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine) Lima is subtly making the Indian palate aware of a new combination of flavours. Japanese cuisine is elegant and delicate and Peruvian cuisine is fresh and punchy; it’s a match made in heaven. We loved how the mushrooms had soaked up all the ponzu goodness and it added a lot of its earthiness to the reduction. It was delicious and the specs of sesame seeds made it look really good.

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Our meal would have been incomplete without tacos, so the next dish we tried was Prawn Tacos. We had the Garlic rubbed Prawns with Pica de Gallo made with green tomatoes. It was packed with flavour and had everything that a good taco should have. We would’ve really liked it if the prawns had a spicy kick to it. Just personal preference. And, our prayers were answered with the next dish.

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We had the Quinotto; a quinoa based risotto. What we loved about this dish was how the Aji Chili went well with earthy flavours of the mushrooms and the crunch of the popped quinoa seeds. A flavour bomb. Aji chili paste is used as the base of the sauce, in which the quinoa is cooked, which gives it the bright yellow color. The dish is finished with popped quinoa, that’s fried in chili oil, giving you a subtle hint of heat that makes this dish simply irresistible.

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And how could we end our meal without having Chimichangas! These deep fried Tortillas stuffed with lamb and refried beans will definitely be a crowd pleaser. We saw a table order multiple portions of them. Chimichangas are served with salsa and sour cream. One of our favourites of the evening.

We also sampled some more dishes that were part of the ongoing GR8 American Food And Beverage Festival that was organized by the USDA – U.S Dept of Agriculture to promote U.S products. Lima is one of the restaurants taking part in this promotion and has a menu designed especially for it. The promotion is on till the 26th of October, 2016.

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We loved the Poached Pear Salad with Toasted Walnut and Goat’s Cheese Crumble. This dish was specially created for this promotion. The poached pear was mildly flavoured and the toasted walnut and goat’s cheese crumble made it really scrumptious.

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We also tried the Chile Relleno, which was Bhavnagari Chillies stuffed with Cottage Cheese, Wilbur Prunes and Chipotle, served with caramelized walnut sauce. It was a revelation to taste bhavnagari chillies made this way. The chef brought out the essence of the chili flavour sans the spicy and sometimes unnecessary heat that these chillies are famous for. The prunes added a hint of sweetness, which went really well with the nuttiness of the sauce. It was brilliantly made. Another one of our favourites of the evening.

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The BBQ Habit Grilled Chicken that was also a part of the promotion menu was good too. We liked the smokey and juicy chicken thighs, and the Chili paste and honey added a twang to the dish.

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For dessert we had Belgian Chocolate cake. The best chocolate cake we’ve had in a while. The cake was moist and fresh. We would go back just some of the cake if we were craving some good chocolate cake. It was perfect.

Dining at Lima was nothing short of a gastronomical wave that has got us hooked on to Peruvian flavours and as we progressed with our meal, each dish just seemed to get better. Chef Atul Kochhar has done an incredible job of introducing what is just a droplet in the ocean of flavours that Peruvian cuisine has to offer. While a few of their ingredients are imported, recreating Peruvian food with local produce sourced from their farm at Ganeshpuri is remarkable. Chef Kochhar’s vision is brilliantly reflected in Chef Jerry Thomas’s work. The staff is prompt and attentive, and the best part is they are well aware of each ingredient that goes into each dish. Lionel, was our server for the evening, and he did a great job. We had really enjoyed dining at Lima and can’t wait to go back for more.

China INC, Taj Santacruz

Our first visit to Taj, Santacruz left us awestruck with its modern yet palatial decor with splashes of vibrant colors. Each restaurant here is uniquely designed keeping in mind the overall architecture of the hotel. Interestingly, the whole hotel celebrates light with chandeliers that are found in various shapes, sizes and colors throughout the building. We were thoroughly impressed with the double ceiling and the massive hand blown glass chandeliers at the lobby; it’s the first thing you notice the moment you walk into the hotel, and it made us go “whoa!”

We immediately reached for our phones to snap a few pictures. 🙂

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When you enter China INC, you are sure to be mesmerized with the Dragon that is suspended from the ceiling. Made out of hand blown glass bulbs, this piece is already finding it’s way to every selfie that is clicked at China INC. The restaurant surely has great lighting and the warm tones of yellow sets a nice mood. We were seated in the private dining area that had round tables. We were warmly welcomed by Executive Chef, Vikas Milhoutra and Executive Sous, Chef Nitin Minocha. We also met the General Manager Mr Pankaj Sampat. After a brief introduction we were shown to our table.

The theme our dinner at China INC. was to celebrate the flavours of Sichuan, known to be one of the four great traditions of Chinese cuisine. The prominent traits of Sichuan cuisine are best described as Spicy, Hot, Fresh and Fragrant. And our dinner reflected just that.

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We started off with a tall glass of IL Grigio Spumante that paired superbly with the dimsum and appetizers that were served. China INC has some signature cocktails that really complement the flavours of Sichuan cuisine. We tried a Rum based cocktail that had whole Sichuan pepper corns it; the hint of pepper made it irresistibly delicious. Even the wines that were served were paired keeping in mind the Indian palate and how it reacted with the cuisine. We had the Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso (red wine), Tenuta San Guido – Scaia (white wine) that the Sommelier recommended for our meal. It was impressive seeing an Asian restaurant pair wines so brilliantly to enhance an eating experience; even their signature in-house cocktails are flavoured with Asian spices and ingredients and complement the cuisine well.

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We were then served some delectable and lipsmacking dimsum and appetizers that created a riot of flavours and textures in our mouths. We absolutely loved how the food served had authentic Sichuan flavours yet were contemporary and modern. The menu at China INC sings of Cantonese & Sichuan flavours with dishes primarily from the Xiao Bao region of Shanghai. We loved the Chilli Butter Garlic Prawns and almost all of the of dimsum that we tried. We were impressed!

Two dishes that were definite stand-outs were the Edamame and Truffle dumpling and the Chilean Sea Bass dumpling. We also had Spiced Chicken dumplings and fluffy Spicy Coriander and Vegetable Baos. Good stuff. We then had a Chef’s special preparation called Crispy Fried Prawns with Oats and Curry Leaves; created to add in a new dimension of flavour, we felt it kinda missed the mark as an item on the ‘China INC.’ menu simply because the inclusion of curry leaves in an Asian dish felt quite out of place. But we absolutely loved it as a dish; the prawns were cooked perfectly and the oats made it super crunchy.

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Another crunchy appetizer to die for was the Calamari that was served with Roasted Garlic. Absolutely yum. The beautifully cooked Shimeji Mushrooms with Green Beans and dried Red Chillies would melt any mushroom lover’s heart instantly. We love subtle flavours that hero the main ingredients in a dish and this did just that. Even Chef Nitin Minocha mentioned how the food industry is progressing towards enhancing flavours in such a way that the vegetable or the protein used is showcased to its truest form. Every dish reflected that. The stories of his culinary journey and his insight about the ingredients, techniques and the cuisine spoke volumes of his rich experience at Taj.

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The next dish was Spicy Lemon & Coriander Soup; delicious, light and flavourful. The fragrance of lemon and coriander was refreshing and the balance of flavours was to the t. The oh so subtle hint of spice was comforting, and we really enjoyed the bold textures of the black and white fungus, pearls of edamame beans and goji berries with each spoonful. Perfect for a rainy day. We did notice that the Mantou Bun that was supposed to come with the soup was missing though.

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The mains arrived with a bang! Make some noise for the Chilean Sea Bass. It was perfect. The fish, served on a bed of fragrant red sauce, was steamed to perfection. Another favourite was the Stir Fried Sliced Lamb made in Yunnan style with Red Chillies and Chinese Celery. What a brilliant dish! The lamb just melts in your mouth, and your palate is coated with heat from the Chillies and you then taste the chinese celery which has very distinct flavour. Even the vegetarian dishes shone brilliantly, be it Seasonal Vegetable with Black Pepper Sauce or the Stewed Bean Curd “Ma Po” style with vegetable in Chili Bean Sauce. Packed with flavours and textures, these surely are definite must haves. You cannot leave China INC without tasting the Kai Lan, a chinese vegetable similar to Broccoli, also know as Broccolini. It has thin long stalks. The dish that was served to us was Kai Lan stired fried with chillies and garlic. It was treated so beautifully and carefully retaining all it’s natural flavour so that one enjoys the vegetable without it’s flavours being dominated with heavy sauces or spices. It was simple yet absolutely delicious. We were served Clay pot cooked rice with Assorted Mushrooms and Five Spice. So happy to taste our favourite Morels with a hint of Chinese 5 spice with the smokey rice. The Udon Noodles made in-house was strictly OK.

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For dessert we had Batter Fried Milk Cake with Chilled Rambutan and Condensed Milk. The milk cake was deep fried to a lovely golden brown color, was super hot and did manage to shock our tongues with the heat, but as soon as you tuck into the juicy and fleshy Rambutan that is chilled, you understand what the chef is trying to achieve. It has contrast of textures and temperatures; combine all three and you would taste a beautiful balance and intensity of sweetness. It was a clean neat dessert.

China INC truly celebrates the Land of the Dragon. Being fans of Asian food, this tasting was surely a treat to our senses. The courses definitely had a rhythm to it, balancing flavours and textures that hit the perfect note with every dish that was served. There were a few misses but can be completely ignored as the other dishes were simply mind blowing. The importance of treating each ingredient with respect and executing it in a way that showcases their true flavour is something that the chefs have achieved at China INC. We had a wonderful time and will definitely be back for more.

Cotinga, The Tamarind Hotel, Goa

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We were invited to Cotinga at The Tamarind Hotel, at Anjuna, Goa. The first thing we liked about this place is the color scheme; turquoise & white with hints of yellow. We were intrigued by how silhouettes of a particular bird dominated the theme of their décor. Interestingly, when we met Ms. Param, the co-owner of the hotel; she shared a lovely story about how a turquoise Cotinga bird used to visit their property often. They fell in love with the bird and decided to incorporate the memories on their walls, and chose turquoise as one of the dominant colors in their décor. It was a pleasure meeting Ms Param who shared her vision for Cotinga cafe with us. We found her really passionate about hospitality, and her love for baking reflects in the huge dessert fridge that welcomes you when you enter Cotinga.

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It was a sunny afternoon. We were served refreshing Tamarind Sherbet that was served in Margarita glasses. The use of tamarind evokes your senses and brings you closer to the surroundings that have an abundance of tamarind trees.

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Our appetizers were selected from the Tamarind Specials. We had the Roasted Tamarind Fish, grilled fish glazed with a homemade natural tamarind paste. King Fish Steak that were grilled perfectly, and smothered with a thick chunky tangy sauce that left us salivating. Next was one of my favourites, Tomato and Pesto Bruschetta. The tomato and pesto mix was seasoned beautifully and served on toasted bread that was made in-house. We continued our lunch with some Crispy Honey Chicken. The menu aptly describes the dish as super crispy; and wow, it was. Every bite was scrumptious and the toasted sesame seeds added a lovely flavour. We definitely recommend this dish to be paired with your drinks.

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From the Tandoor section we were asked to try a classic; Fish Tikka. We were completely blown away by this simple dish. There was so much flavour. The fish pieces were marinated and cooked so well, it melted in our mouths. A true-blue Punjabi would truly appreciate this. We also tried the Tandoori Prawns. Really nice, but not as impressive compared to the Fish Tikkas.

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It was time for the mains. Ms Param suggested we try their Punjabi cuisine and we were glad we did. We ordered the Prawns Masala and Dal Makhani with our favourite, Butter Naans. We truly appreciate restaurants that churn out lipsmackingly good Dal Makhani, as it one dish that requires patience and proper technique. We loved it. Ms Param also shared a lil secret that they follow to make this dish extra silky. It was simply superb. The Prawn Masala Fry was OK-ish but another order of Rava Fried Prawns compensated for it.

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We were really looking forward to dessert as Cotinga takes immense pride in their sweet treats made in-house. We asked for the local favourite – The Banofee Pie. OMG! We’ve never tasted anything as good as this one. It was just awesome. We also tried the Baked New York Cheesecake, the Double Chocolate Decadence and the Irish Cream Tiramisu. They were all good but not as good as the Banofee Pie! It would be a waste of a trip if you missed having this at Cotinga.

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Our meal was followed by a tour of the hotel. Ms Param gave us insight on how some of the sections of the hotel were over 100 years old. It’s a beautiful property with stonewalls with highlighted hues of aqua blue, white and yellow. We loved the furnishings as well, Ms Param told us that each one of them were personally handpicked by her son and her. They have a big courtyard that has some cozy lounge seating. It looks spectacular, as it’s white in color amidst the trees. We also liked how the round white paper lanterns adorn the place. Do not miss the Free Bird Night every Wednesday where the place transforms into a musical extravaganza, with bands playing some good music.

Cotinga is a great place to unwind, with great food and relaxing music. The Tamarind Hotel has everything you’d look for for a perfect vacation. So if you’re in Anjuna, don’t miss this place. We’ve already recommended the place to a bunch of friends who’ve ended up enjoying their time here. It won’t disappoint.

Dine In The Dark, Alila Diwa, Goa

imageWe had fun on our trip to Goa in Jan and visiting Alila Diwa was one of the highlights of our trip. It really got us thinking about the important role our senses play when we’re reviewing a restaurant or critiquing a meal. Alila Diwa sent us an invite for their tried and tested concept – Dine in the Dark; something they started in 2014 during the International Earth Hour.

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We got there a lil earlier to check out the hotel. We were truly mesmerized by the expanse of rice paddies that painted a lush green canvas; so soothing to the eyes. The place was serene; the beautiful traditional Goan style architecture strum those unsung chords that pull you closer to the roots of the rich culture and history of Goa. The infinity pool is an amazing sight, with the rice paddies as the backdrop. The sun was at its best, melting into the horizon. It was picture perfect. We were in awe.

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The Dine in the Dark experience is hosted at Alila Diwa’s restaurant, Spice Studio. This restaurant is actually elevated and surrounded by water. With a huge banyan tree spreading its branches around makes for an absolutely magnificent sight. Spice Studio boasts of an extensive selection of seafood and culinary delights from all across India. Interestingly, every Thursday it is transformed into this (virtually) pitch dark, completely quiet place, where a meal is enjoyed in complete darkness. After sunset, you cannot see anything besides the moonlight touching the water; you can only hear the breeze brushing through the leaves and the gushing sound of the water fountains and the ripples that follow after.

We are not afraid of the dark, so it felt more like an adventure when we were escorted to the restaurant. It was pleasingly quiet, making us automatically lower our voices to a mere whisper. The waiters led us to our table. I suddenly realized I had closed my eyes to let everything around me take over my senses. Slowly our ears could hear more and our sense of smell quickly located the kitchen. Mission accomplished, the concept was now crystal clear. In complete darkness our sense of smell, taste and hearing had heightened. So when you are not able to see your food; you are more inclined to taste better (or more earnestly) and appreciate textures better. I was reminded of the scene from one of my favourite movies “Ratatouille”; where Remy, the rat chef asks his brother Emile to close his eyes and enjoy the beautiful combination of cheese and fruit. There were fireworks of flavours in the scene. That’s exactly what happens to you when you dine in the dark.

We were not informed about the details of the menu in advance. We were asked for our meat preference and if we had any dietary restrictions or allergies. We were relieved to know that the non-veg would be boneless. Soon the food arrived. We were served food in a thali. Rich aromas of spices and kebabs spread our table and got us salivating. It was pitch dark so we couldn’t see a thing. We laughed, as it was our first time that we didn’t lock horns with our opinions of how the food looked. It became a fun game of guessing the dishes that were served. We ate slowly savouring every morsel of food. There were different textures, different temperatures and tastes. Our palates were going through a great time tasting every element of the thali.

We were served a mix of Rajasthani, Punjabi, Maharashtrian and South Indian dishes. These were the dishes that were served in our thali –

Tawa Murg Tikka, Amritsari Macchi, Sabudana Vada with Khajoor Stuffing, Methi Neem ke Tandoor Aloo, Dhaniwal Korma, Murgh Methi Masala, BHarli Vangi, Vengaya Kuzhambu, Moong Masoor ki Dal, Gatta Pulao, Shrikhand Sandwich and Ada Payasam.

We were given the menu at the end of our meal. We were so curious to check if we guessed it right, and I am proud to say that I got 9 out 10 of the dishes right. We were asked to switch off our phones before we entered the restaurant so that we were able to enjoy the whole experience without any disturbance. Our habit of clicking pictures before every meal was thrown out of the window but we were not complaining. The food was not extraordinary at this meal but bringing together Indian dishes that are varied in terms of flavours, tastes and textures and still be able to present a well-balanced thali was commendable. We were impressed.

It was really interesting to see the staff work their way to every table, handle food and drinks; go in and out of the kitchen and handle service with ease; all in the dark. We loved the concept, and it is something that everyone should experience when they are in Goa. We leave this post with just a couple of pictures to let your imagination take over. Some things in life are better experienced in the dark and now we know eating is one of them. 🙂